Understanding the feminisation of migration

by Luca Stanus Ghib

Last spring, while attending Prof. Devillanova’s course in International migration here at Bocconi, I had the opportunity to research and write on a topic, which in my view has not had enough room in the academic or public debate, namely the “feminisation of migration”.

What is meant by that? To be sure, women have historically migrated as much as men, in some cases even outnumbering them. What has changed in the last couple of decades is the extent to which women migrate independently or as heads of their households, in stark contrast with their traditional role as movers tied to a husband. In addition, we as a society have become increasingly aware that there is a gender dimension to sociological and anthropological processes, migration being a prominent one.

Let us briefly go over some evidence to help us understand how the feminisation of migration affects the study of development and its consequences for policy.

The intersection of the migration and development literatures has mostly been the study of remittances and their impact on those who stay behind. It is important, then, to acknowledge that there are gender-related differences which shape the ultimate impact of remittance cash home. Concerning the gender of the receiver, studies suggest that when men migrate and remit, the women left behind gain more agency in deciding how to direct that additional income. Income remitted to women typically finances investment into the education of girls. There is, however, also evidence that restrictive gender norms in place in certain settings may be resilient enough to not allow for this empowering effect.

A couple of papers (here and here) contribute to the growing literature on gender norms in developing countries by looking at their impact on female migration between developing countries, an ever-increasing flow which is deeply altering the global South. Gender-discriminatory social norms seem to act as both push and pull factors, depending on the context. In particular, the authors suggest a critical threshold below which such norms push women to migrate, and above which they are strong enough to curtail migration of women.

Social networks are another feature of development studies which is bound to be nuanced once we take gender into account. For instance, female migrant networks are more of a pull factor than they are for men as they help overcome some of the stigma surrounding the migration of (often single) women and they provide crucial information to dampen the risk of exploitation, abuse, or trafficking – threats which are especially severe for women. Moreover, female migrant networks tend to be more comprehensive, providing also information about welfare and social services in the destination country, which is a result of the fact that migrant women tend to display a higher propensity to settle once they have decided to migrate.

Interestingly, there is evidence that skilled women are more likely to migrate than both skilled men and unskilled women. As skilled women tend to concentrate in the domestic health sector, this type of migration has a particularly damaging effect on the provision of health care in sending countries (see this study for a discussion on the paramount case of the Philippines), systems which are often already under-financed and inadequate.

What are the consequences for policy? The existing framework of UN conventions has its merits although it is under-subscribed and largely ineffective, leaving a legislative gap for national governments to fill when it comes to migrant women. Experts suggest receiving countries should do more to regulate recruitment of migrants (especially domestic workers, who are mostly women and are the most at-risk category) and work towards more equality between migrants and natives; sending countries should provide women with information about safe migration channels, combat trafficking and smuggling, and provide better access to financing and employment for women at home. Nonetheless, receiving countries currently do not seem to prioritise the integration and protection of migrants, whereas sending countries often lack capacity to improve the situation for women domestically or to better equip them should they decide to migrate.

To conclude, women migration is an extremely complex phenomenon. Understanding its peculiarities allows us to understand with more clarity the phenomenon of migration itself and what it means for developing countries – an issue which is shaping, and will inexorably shape, the world we live in.


Luca Stanus Ghib is an MSc candidate in Economic and Social Sciences at Bocconi University, Milan. This post draws from a longer essay which is available here. For comments and feedback: luca.stanusghib@gmail.com


Open Data in Africa: virtuous examples and promising perspectives

by Ornella Darova

Open Data are data that can be read, used and distributed by anyone freely. According to the Open Data Barometer, Sub-Saharan African countries are the worst performing globally in open data availability in terms of all the criteria employed by the ranking: readiness, implementation and impact. No country has truly demonstrated clear leadership in the continent. However, there are a few examples of regional pioneers: countries like Rwanda, Kenya and Ghana have already started implementing initiatives promoting the open data culture and other ones like Burkina Faso, Benin, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda have become active lately, committing to drive incipient or new open data projects.

In addition to single government efforts, in the recent years there has been a number of initiatives and agreements involving various actors across the continent, promoted by groups of states, international organizations and also independent journalists and researchers. 7 years have passed since when 11 African states (of 75 countries in total) signed the Open Government Declaration, in order to “foster a global culture of open government that empowers and delivers for citizens, and advances the ideals of open and participatory 21st century government”. In 2015, an African Data Consensus was signed by the whole African Union in collaboration with the United Nations, aimed to build a “data ecosystem providing timely, user-driven and disaggregated data for public good and inclusive development”. Nevertheless, even if open data policy commitments have been spread fast, “implementation and impact are lagging behind, creating a risk that the open data movement could fade into a ghost town of abandoned portals and forgotten apps” (Open Data Barometer).

Features that should be evaluated to assess the openness and availability of data are:

  • Legal restrictions for the use of data
  • Availability for download in a machine-readable format
  • Granularity of data
  • Data breadth, both temporal and topical.

Based on these criteria, we are going to give a not exhaustive list of websites that are on the right track for openness, trying to highlight useful resources for students and researchers.

The most promising platform is probably the one launched by African Development Bank, “Open Data for Africa”. The portal reports the vision that motivates the initiative: “reliable data constitutes the single most convincing way of getting the people involved in what their leaders and institutions are doing”. The website hosts data from the totality of African countries and gives access to several open data initiatives like Africa Food Prices Collection, Power Africa, Africa Infrastructure Knowledge Program, Africa Health Atlas, Ebola Situation Room, Monitoring Sustainable Development Goals in Africa and so on, mainly focusing on socio-economic statistics. The data can be browsed also on a specific country basis.

Another interesting example is the one represented by OpenAFRICA, which aims to be the largest independent repository of open data on the continent. It is private, run voluntarily by Code for Africa, and it collects in a user-friendly interface data from public sources: 3165 datasets including a Sustainable Development Goal baseline survey, World Bank data and other information from local public institutions.

However, the largest collection of comparable country-level economic and development data remains the DataBank from the World Bank with several databases covering basically every country in the world, included Sub-Saharan Africa of course, and dating back 57 years. Nevertheless, not all areas present complete time series, especially when it comes to the African continent, thus indicating challenges faced by national statistical offices.

Besides initiatives at the continent level, there are also remarkable efforts to offer open data at national levels for some virtuous countries.

A very user-friendly interface is offered by one of the most frequently updated sites when it comes to national African statistical institutes: Kenya’s National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS). However, a relevant part of the data is not machine-readable (in pdf format) and is subject to several restrictions: no commercial use is allowed, and the data cannot be displayed in the media. Nevertheless, there is another open data portal in Kenya, “Kenya Open Data”, which seems to have embraced much more efficiently openness of data culture: from this website, it is possible to download a wide array of dataset in a variety of machine-readable formats – government data, regional, expenditures, health-related statistics, and even the 2009 census without particular restrictions.

Another portal with a very user-friendly interface (but only in French) is the one by Benin’s National Institute of Statistics and Economic Analysis, that gathers machine-readable economic, social and demographic data over a relatively impressively long time period, starting from 1991.

A virtuous example to highlight is Rwanda, with its National Institute of Statistics: apart from the usual indicators and aggregate statistics, its very precise website allows to download microdata from surveys and census along with metadata, questionnaires and reports.

An additional example worth-mentioning is Burkina Faso, which has two useful websites, even though not very user-friendly: the National Institute of Statistics and Demography and the National Statistics Council. The second website is more accessible and allows to download data in excel format. It is a centralized website that gives access to data divided by minister or sector of the government providing it.

Unfortunately, many other national bureaus of statistics simply present reports and aggregated data in a not machine-readable format. There are some countries, though, that show promising perspectives. For instance, we have just had the chance to collaborate with the Statistics Bureau of Sierra Leone for a project we are currently running in the country. We have met the recently appointed Statistician General Osman Sankoh, who had previously been the Executive Director of the INDEPTH Network for 10 years after having worked at the Institute of Public Health at the University of Heidelberg and after having acted as a consultant for World Bank, World Health Organisation, University of Pennsylvania and so on.

In his visionary view, prof. Sankoh wants the institution he is leading to be a pioneer in terms of openness and sophistication of data availability in the African continent. He is designing a platform with different levels of access depending on the type of user, which can properly manage a trade-off between data availability and data privacy. His idea is to build fruitful exchanges with researchers around the world interested in the country’s statistics and data that can offer a renovated know-how to the institution. His pragmatic and creative approach to open data might be the path to follow for several countries after Sierra Leone facing similar challenges.

Hard times in Italian schools?

by Michele Rocca

It is a matter of fact that inequality has been growing in developed countries in recent decades, but how does this affect the future aspirations of pupils?

With this research question, a broad network of organizations including LEAP and headed by CIAI (Centro Italiano Aiuti all’Infanzia) has launched an ambitious project called #Tu6Scuola.

Is it still possible to improve one’s income status through education? How does family socio-economic status shape the dreams of children?

Last week, I visited Ancona and Città di Castello (a small city close to Arezzo) to collect data for the baseline phase of LEAP’s impact assessment of the project #Tu6Scuola among students in their first year of middle school (ages 11-12). I was not alone, indeed another LEAP affiliated student joined me and other LEAP students were previously sent with the same aim to several middle schools in Palermo, Bari, Como and Milano.  The schools were selected with useful but also very tricky criteria: complex socio-economic context.

The data was collected through a questionnaire that was divided in two parts. The first part was a cognitive test made of three modules and the second part included questions on family background and personal aspirations and beliefs. My partner and I collected data on almost two hundred pupils and had a great field experience that led to several reflections, two of which I share below.

1-Points of view

I am thirty years old now and looking back on my own middle school experience I am quite sure to state that the words “economic crisis” were not in my vocabulary. I was born in 1987 and during middle school I was growing up in the wealthy 90s for I felt no urgency to think about my future. Of course there were friends considering  (a medical career or dreamers saying that they would be astronauts or football players, but as rule of thumb, the future was not a concern. I was thinking that after graduation the economy would find me a job. I was very naïve, I know.

But after this experience, and some amusing and insightful chats with the students, I recognize that times have changed. There are still a lot dreamers and “football player” has definitely taken the first position in the job ranking (wanting to become an astronaut can be considered an old cliché, no doubt), but the interesting part is that now kids also want to be architects, chefs, nurses or programmers. If you grow up in an environment where the words “economic crisis” are common knowledge, you accept it as a constant in your equation and you probably take it into consideration in defining your aspirations.

2- Melting pot country

Still, looking back to my childhood, I remember one Ethiopian girl during elementary school and one Romanian boy during middle school.

When I was in Ancona last week, on each door there was a paper with the translation of the word class in ten different languages.  On average, for each group there were students of three or four different nationalities. It was interesting for us to see how Italy is changing and I am very curious to see what will be the results of this project will be.

Hence, quoting Charles Dickens, I think today it is a period of rapid changes rather than hard times.ciai-ancona-3-e1532957678728.jpg

Can we make social norms evolve? Female genital cutting in Sierra Leone

By Ornella Darovasierra leone 1

In May, I had the opportunity to visit Sierra Leone with the purpose of collecting useful information to design a randomized controlled trial aimed at hindering the prevalence of female genital cutting (FGC). I met several very well-known NGOs – Save The Children, World Health Organization, Health Poverty Action, International Rescue Committee, as well as local and smaller NGOs like AMNET, the Amazonian Initiative and the Forum on Harmful Traditional Practices. I also met representatives from the Department for International Development of the UK and the International Growth Centre.

During these meetings, I had the opportunity to deepen my knowledge about the phenomenon of FGC, its health and socio-economic consequences, what is the public opinion on the topic, the role of local politicians and community representatives, and how organizations are attempting to face it.

Currently, in Sierra Leone, according to the last available DHS (2016), almost the 90% of women are cut. The incidence is extremely high in rural areas and is very slightly fading out in urban areas, especially among more educated and rich households.

The cutting is considered a fundamental step in the life of a woman: it is part of the initiation ritual of the Bondo society, the all-female secret society, which is very widespread in West Africa. The Bondo society has existed for hundreds of years and features a complex hierarchy where the main leaders are called “soweis”. Depending on their grade, they can wear different types of headcloths. It can be noticed in this picture of a focus group we had in a village close to Port Loko, in the western part of Sierra Leone: the women of the highest grade wear a white and red scarf over their head. This was one of the most meaningful moments of my trip to Sierra Leone. I had the opportunity to listen to the opinions and ideas of the local representatives, to understand their deep respect for traditions and local culture, and to discover in more detail how the Bondo society is structured and how the rituals are performed.

In order to reach the highest grades and become soweis, women have to live inside the so-called “Bondo bushes” for a very long period of time, that can reach 2 years. Those are very small huts to which only the initiated girls and women can have access. There are countless bushes in the country, even more than one per village. The structure is articulated in different slots that correspond to different stages of the rituals. I was not allowed to enter inside them or get more than 10 meters close.


Sierra Leone 3

The soweis are those who perform the cut and the whole initiation procedure, in exchange for a quite high fee, that can reach 200$. Therefore, this tradition is a relevant source of income for the soweis, which as already mentioned, are considered leaders and reference points in the villages. This is very well known by local politicians, who frequently support FGC and sometimes even pay the fees in villages during electoral campaigns, in exchange for the support of soweis, which have great influence on the voting choices of local communities. As a matter of fact, rural communities are much more numerous than urban communities in Sierra Leone: therefore, there are more votes to conquer in the villages than in towns.

During the initiation, girls are taught to sing, dance, cook, take care of the children, take care of their bodies and hygiene and so on: basically, they are taught how to be women, wives, mothers. But the harmful part of the tradition – FGC – causes several threats to the girls’ health. The excessive bleeding, the infections and the harm due to the soweis immobilizing the girls are all very common consequences of the genital cutting. In addition to this, there are serious psychological repercussions, weighted as well by the fact that the girls during the process are generally alone and do not come along with their mothers or relatives. While we were in Sierra Leone, two activists told us their touching stories, how FGC was performed to them and the psychological and the health consequences they suffered. The profound wounds they had were evident, and we are extremely grateful to them for having shared with us such a personal and delicate aspect of their lives. Women in Sierra Leone, though, very frequently do not acknowledge the fact that the symptoms they see on their bodies are linked to FGC and are not fully aware of the danger of the procedure, especially as far as long-term consequences are concerned.

At the end of the initiation, there is an event that involves the whole community and celebrates the initiation, during which the initiated girls bring the so-called “Bondo Devil”, a black mask, and perform traditional dances.

Sierra Leone 2

Usually, after the cut girls suffer from bleeding and pain for many years. This fact hampers their concentration at school, which is why they very usually drop out of school after the initiation. As they are considered women once initiated, they usually get married and have children when they’re still very young. This means that FGC has very important socio-economic consequences as well.

The process, according to the DHS of 2016, usually happens during puberty: 12 years old is the mean and 13 is the median. In general, the cutting is supposed to be performed before any sexual intercourse. Moreover, since more and more girls are protesting against it, many parents have started to have the cutting done earlier, during infancy, so that the child cannot have a say in the decision. This is why many organizations are trying to advocate for a law that pushes the minimum age for FGC to 18 years old. In this way, they argue that the process wouldn’t be on a minor, of course, and girls could have an autonomous decision.

The issue though, according to Rugiatu Turay, former Deputy Minister of Social welfare, is that the girls wouldn’t be free to choose anyway. The tradition involves the whole community and cannot be an individual and autonomous decision. It is normally considered a matter of family pride, inclusion in the community and status, as it leads to the participation in the Bondo society. It has links with the marriage market as well. Therefore, the only way to go, in her opinion, is to preserve the initiation process, which is part of the local tradition and includes useful and constructive elements for the growth of the girls and for the social cohesion of the community, while excluding the harmful part. That is what Turay calls “Bondo without cutting”. Community engagements and the involvement of local leaders is needed in order to make culture and traditions evolve according to what is the best for the girls’ both psychological and physical health, as well as their education and subsequent occupation opportunities, and their marriage and household decisions. This would be a big scale approach involving the whole villages, rather than an individual approach, which at the same time takes into account the complex hierarchy of leaders.

A tradition and culture friendly approach is strongly needed when dealing with this delicate and politically loaded phenomenon. As a matter of fact, many people in the country are arguing that organizations fighting against FGC only want to impose western ideas and destroy local traditions. This is simply counterproductive, of course. And this is probably the reason why I found out that almost no organization is explicitly dealing with this social norm in the country, except for very few exceptions, like UNICEF or a few local NGOs. Working on this phenomenon will be a complex challenge, but the health of girls should come first, and an effective policy must be found.

Sierra Leone 4

Teachers matter – And So Do Their Gender Stereotypes

By Michela Carlana

In most countries, girls are lagging behind in math performance compared to boys, with negative implications for their readiness for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) universities and occupations (OECD,2014, Card and Payne, 2017). The underrepresentation of women in these highly profitable fields may be fueled by social conditioning and gender stereotyping (Nosek et al., 2007, Guiso et al., 2008). In my job market paper, I study whether exposure to teachers’ gender bias affects math achievements, high-school track choice, and self-confidence of boys and girls.

How do I measure teachers’ gender stereotypes?

A crucial challenge of this research is the measurement of teachers’ gender stereotypes. In my paper, I focus on implicit bias, as measured by the Gender-Science Implicit Association Test (IAT). This test is computer-based tool developed by social psychologists, which exploits the reaction time to associations between fields of study (Scientific and Humanistic) and gender (male and female names) (Greenwald et al, 1995). The idea underlying the test is that the easier the mental task, the faster the response production and the fewer    the errors made in the process.13  The IAT requires the categorization of words to the left or  to the right of a computer or tablet screen and it provides a measurement of the strength of  the association between two concepts – specifically in the Gender-Science IAT, gender and scientific/humanistic fields. Recently, IAT scores have been used also by economists when studying gender and race discrimination: despite being noisy measures, IAT scores have been shown to predict relevant choices and behaviors in lab experiments and in real-world interactions (Rooth, 2010, Reuben et al., 2014, Burns et al.,2016, Glover et al., 2017). Implicit stereotypes can operate without awareness or intention to harm the stigmatized-group (Bertrand et al., 2005). Even if teachers do not explicitly endorse gender stereotypes, their implicit bias may affect their interaction with pupils.

What are IAT scores correlated with?

I have collected AT scores on around 1.400 math and literature teachers in several provinces in Northern Italy. On top of implicit stereotypes, I administered a survey to teachers, which included demographic characteristics (age, place of birth, parents’ education, children age and gender, …), information about their teaching experience and explicit gender views. Interestingly, implicit bias is strongly correlated with own gender, field of study, and with the gender norms in the city of birth, as measured by the World Value Survey and by female labor force participation. Other characteristics, such as experience, gender of own children, teacher “quality”, have a small and statistically insignificant correlation with IAT scores.

I built an original dataset merging teacher surveys with administrative data from students, including standardized test scores, high-school track choice, parents’ education and occupation, and an additional questionnaire I administered on self-confidence in different subjects.

Do teacher gender stereotypes affect math performance?

Exploiting quasi-random assignment of students to teachers with different level of implicit bias, I find that exposure to teacher stereotypes substantially affects gender differences in math achievement. As in other countries, in Italy girls are lagging behind in math throughout the educational career (Fryer and Levitt, 2010): the average gender gap in math performance increases of 0.08 standard deviations between grade 6 and grade 8. Classes assigned to math teachers with one standard deviation higher gender bias have a 34% higher gender gap in math improvements during middle school, which corresponds to an increase of 0.03 standard deviations. All characteristics of peers and teachers are capturedy class fixed effects, as classmates attend all lecture together during grade 6 and 8. The results are robust to the inclusion of student and math teacher characteristics, interacted with pupil gender.

The figure below illustrates this result. I consider three groups of teachers according with their IAT score –  those with a “girls-math” attitude (IAT score £ -0.15), “no bias” (-0.15“boys-math” attitude (IAT score³0.15). The gender gap in math performance does not significantly increase between grade 6 and 8 in classes assigned to teachers with a “girls-math” attitude, but it gets bigger the stronger the stereotypes of teachers.

Are girls lagging behind or boys doing better when assigned to more biased teachers?

I compare students by gender enrolled in the same school and cohort, but assigned to teachers with different level of stereotypes. The Figure below shows that girls lag behind when assigned to more biased teachers: the impact is linear throughout the distribution of teachers’ IAT scores. Boys are not significantly affected by gender stereotypes of their own math teacher.

Girls from disadvantaged backgrounds in terms of initial abilities are more negatively affected by teachers’ gender stereotypes. These results are consistent with the stereotype threat theory: individuals at risk of confirming widely-known negative stereotypes underperform in fields in which their group is ability-stigmatized.

Teacher Bias affects Girls’ Self-Confidence in Math and Track Choice

For a subsample of students, I collected information on their own assessment of ability in math. I find that biased math teachers activate negative self-stereotypes and induce females to believe that they are worse at math than what would be expected given their achievements. This result is important for three reasons. First, it shows that self-confidence of women in math is affected by social conditioning from teachers. Second, it is an important mechanism in order to to understand the effect of teacher bias on math performance of female students. Third, it may have potentially long-run consequences on girls’ educational choices. Indeed, I find that girls exposed to more biased teachers are more likely to attend less demanding high-school tracks: being assigned to a teacher with one standard deviation higher bias increases girls’ probability of choosing vocational training of 13 percent (which corresponds to 2 percentage point increase).

Which are the policy implications of my research?

In my job market paper, I provide evidence that implicit gender bias can form an unintended and often invisible barrier to equal opportunities in education, affecting math performance, self-confidence and track choice of girls.

These findings raise the question of which kind of policies should be implemented in order to alleviate the impact of gender stereotypes. The implicit bias measured by IAT scores should not be used to make decisions about others, as hiring or firing decisions. IAT scores are educational tools to develop awareness of implicit preferences and stereotypes. Hence, one set of potential policies may be aimed at informing people about own bias or training them in order to assure equal behavior toward individuals of ability-stigmatized groups and others. An alternative way to fight against the negative consequences of stereotypes is increasing self-confidence of females in math. My research in progress aims to investigate both types of policies.

Michela Carlana is a PhD student at Bocconi University and a LEAP affiliated student. She will start as Assistant Professor at Harvard Kennedy School in July 2018. More information about her research can be found on her personal website.

Educational investments from the lens of ethnic minorities in Vietnam


After a fast-and-furious bus ride, and an overnight train from Hanoi, we arrived in Sa Pa. 318km far from Hanoi, Sa Pa was a world apart. In a summer day, Sa Pa was a surreal charm with picturesque terraced rice fields, scattering ethnic wooden houses here and there on the hills, and bustling markets filled with lively colors. Above all the beauties this little town had to offer us, to me what set Sa Pa apart from other parts of Vietnam was its ethnic diversity. Across Vietnam, most of the inland deltas and coastal areas are made up of homogenous societies in terms of ethnicity. The major ethnic group – the Kinh – accounts for more than 86% of the country’s population, and dominates in all the main economic hubs or midsize cities of the country. Sa Pa, on the other hand, is home to a good mix of ethnic groups, Hmong, Muong, Thai, Dao, Tay, to name a few. Such an ethnic composition has created a unique social dynamic and mindset for people in Sa Pa.

Does education always bring the same value across ethnic groups?

Wandering through the night markets, I was stunned by how the street vendors could master the art of bargaining not only in Vietnamese, but also in English! Their English proficiency was incredibly impressive. Later on, I learned that most of these street vendors were typically very young, probably did not finish their high schools, and they belonged to different ethnic minority groups. As I was told, the ethnic minorities in Sa Pa found it more profitable to invest their time and resources to learn English from books or tourists, than going to official schools administered by the government. For them, speaking well English would bring back a larger gain of income from tourists. Whereas, going to schools would not only reduce their working time, but also schooling did not seem to be much interesting or provide a clear path of returns in the future.

This logic can strike as shortsighted at first. However, once weighing in all the constraints faced by a minority ethnic individual from a small village, it seems to make sense. As in any other cases, an ethnic minority’s decision to forgo attending formal schooling is tightly linked to his or her returns to education. If the returns to education are not sufficient to cover the cost of not working, the individual would be discouraged to invest in schooling per se and more likely to invest in other practical skills, which are rewarded better in the labor market. In the case of education for the ethnic minorities in Vietnam, the returns to formal education are considerably low. This could be due to three reasons.


First, location, location, location… Areas, where minority ethnic groups allocate in Vietnam, are mostly remote or rural areas, which are isolated with the lack of basic infrastructure to facilitate economic activities intra-regions. This leads to limited economic opportunities for an educated ethnic youth.

Secondly, not only is the quality of formal education in these remote areas is substantially lower than other parts of the country, but the content of formal education is regarded as “Kinh-centric”, failing to reflect the history and culture of other ethnic groups. Together, these factors of formal education quality make attending schools become less attractive to an ethnic minority.

Lastly, current or past discrimination factors in the labor market against ethnic minorities could potentially discourage ethnic workers to obtain a high education in order to compete in the workforce. Differences in cultural heritage, and social behaviors or expectations could be barriers for an ethnic minority to enter the labor market, where the major ethnic group dominates. I once overheard a young Dao girl told her friend that most of the well-paid jobs in town would be reserved for the Kinh people. Ethnic workers like themselves would not stand a chance to take the job. Regardless of whether such speculation is true or not, if an ethnic minority believes that there is a segregation in the job market not based on skills, but rather on ethnic identity, her expectations to gain from education would reduce, which eventually translates to her decision not to invest in formal education. What are the perks of investing in something without a return?

A long-term social division

While the Vietnamese government has taken up many social integration or economic assistance programs, such as the Commission for Ethnic

Minorities and Mountain Areas (CEMMA), these initiatives have not succeeded in fully addressing the ethnic groups’ differential needs, which are rooted from dissimilar cultural heritage and social norms. For example, even though commune health care centers could provide ethnic patients with fee exemptions or free medicines, the minorities still prefer going to shamans due to superstitious beliefs. In terms of education, the Vietnamese educational system is centrally planned, and as mentioned before, the curricula are perceived by ethnic minorities as irrelevant to the realities and local needs of the ethnic groups.

Investing in skills that are rewarded better in the local labor market, in this case, learning English, is probably the best (or the second-best?) option for an ethnic worker. However, in the long run, these different attitudes toward educational investments would potentially widen the social and economic gap among different ethnic groups, and increase social oppression in society.

Jacqueline Nguyen

Land is the new gold


A few days ago, I found myself reading an article about Chilean avocados. As an avocado passionate lover (I grow my own little plants, hoping they survive the Lombardian winter!) I enjoy seeing these creamy tropical fruits on the grocery’s shelves. Nonetheless, the article left me with a sense of guiltiness, making me feel accessory to an unsustainable practice.

As an extremely water-intensive crop, indeed, avocados are literally drying entire areas of Chile. The already scarce freshwater reserves are driven away from households’ consumption and other agricultural activities, and devoted to this export-oriented monoculture aimed at satisfying  European appetite for  guacamole sauce.

The fact that small-scale farmers in the developing world dominate the production of many agricultural commodities but have difficulties in building their livelihoods from them, has always been a big question mark to me.

World population is expected to double by 2050, with most of the increase taking place in developing countries. States will have to feed and house growing populations and, in this context, agriculture-aimed large-scale land acquisitions by foreign actors represent a major policy challenge, as they drive huge amounts of resources away from this goal.

Nothing is new under the sun. Since the debt restructuring programs and trade liberalization policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in the global south during the 1980’s, land has become a commodity to undersell on the world market. Nonetheless, a wave of land grabs unprecedented in size occurred contemporaneous to the financial crises, fostered by concerns about projected scarcities of food, water, and energy, and speculation purposes.

Foreign investors usually belong to two groups. The first is governments, state enterprises or state funds from oil-rich countries with a lack of arable land, water scarcity and harsh climate conditions. The second group is composed of private companies from industrialized countries and emerging economies with large populations and rapid economic growth investing in agro-fuel projects.

In my Master’s thesis, I analyzed land deals for roughly 30Mha, equal to 42 million football fields and more than the size of Ecuador (data were taken from the Land Matrix database). These acquisitions have been most pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa (Mozambique, Ethiopia and Tanzania), Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Indonesia and Laos) and Latin America (Argentina and Brazil). The land in question is secured to grow a particular set of crops for export –palm oil, jatropha, trees, rubber and sugarcane– that have uses as both food and biofuel/biomass.

When analyzing the determinants of a country’s attractiveness for land acquisitions, I found that land investments tend to target countries with large untapped freshwater reserves, a high grade of land tenure insecurity and a high forest cover rate.

In Indonesia, for instance, oil palm plantations fueled by transnational land acquisitions have been a main determinant of primary forest conversion into agricultural land. The slash-and-burn technique used to make room for new oil palm cultivations has made the country a top CO2 emitter globally.

What do Indonesian palm oil, Chilean avocados and Brazilian soybeans have in common? These countries are targeted  for growing agricultural commodities for export. Unfortunately, it is not the case that the outsourced agricultural production is motivated by higher yields or water-saving logics. As mentioned, other factors seem rather to drive land acquisitions.

One thing is certain: the impact on local social fabrics and natural ecosystems is huge. Entire communities are “expelled” from the acquired territories and denied customary rights to land and water. In other cases, they are forced to migrate as the production of a single type of crop makes land unproductive and depletes water resources.

For how long will this be sustainable, in view of the climatic and demographic challenges ahead?

Elena Dal Zotto

Ph.D. wannabe? Funding opportunities “for dummies”.

As you decide to apply to a Ph.D. program you might find yourself wondering how you are going to finance yourself for the next five years. The first thing that you need to know is that it is very uncommon to be admitted to a school without funding, especially in the United States. Indeed, schools usually either admit you with funding or do not admit you at all. Sometimes however this might happen and, in this case, it is useful to know which sources of private funding you could access to.

Private scholarships differ in length and conditions and might adapt to different students’ needs. Each of them has its own, separate, application for which you will usually have to provide a motivation letter, a research proposal, your transcript of grades and one or more recommendation letters. It is important to notice that most of these scholarships are not only intended for students willing to pursue a Ph.D. but also for Ph.D. students. Hence, if you are unsuccessful the first time you apply, you could always do it again during your doctoral studies. Sure enough, submitting your Ph.D. applications with one of these scholarship is a plus, not only because the University will have to invest less money to have you, most beneficiaries still receive fully funded offers, but rather because it signals that you are an outstanding student. However, applying as a Ph.D. student is also a very good option. Indeed, while Ph.D. students are mostly required to focus on coursework during first year (or two), they will then be required to either teach or do some research assistantship work. Having a source of external funding in your second or third year would represent a unique opportunity to focus on your research projects. For instance, some of the students who did this in the past had the chance to spend a considerable amount of time doing data collection and field work in developing countries and hence constructing unique datasets for their empirical work.

In general, my advice would be to apply for these scholarships as you are also applying for your Ph.D. but, if you do not manage to prepare all the material in time, always keep in mind that you could still apply once you have started your doctoral studies and that doing so, may benefit your research projects considerably.

As an Italian citizen, the scholarships I would recommend considering are:

  • Stringher, Banca d’Italia: three scholarships issued by Banca d’Italia and directed to students who graduated in Economics or Political Economy. In order to apply you need to have graduated with a minimum grade of 110/110, to prove English proficiency and to be an Italian citizen. The scholarship pays for your tuition fees and provides the student with 27,000 euro to pay for living expenses. It is intended to last one year but it is possible to renew it for an additional year. One aspect that makes the Stringher a particularly appealing scholarship, in my opinion, is that applicants who are considered outstanding but do not win the scholarship might still be selected for an internship at the Banca d’Italia that will usually takes place in the summer. There, interns will have the chance to learn how research is performed in a central bank and to work on unique data. Deadline: October. (http://www.bancaditalia.it/chi-siamo/lavorare-bi/borse-di-studio/)
  • Guido Cazzavillan, Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia: this scholarship is intended for Italian students who have graduated in Italy before December of the year of application. It is worth 24,000 euro and pays for tuition fees as well. Deadline: end of October. (https://www.unive.it/pag/17985/)
  • Marco Fanno e Crivelli Europe, UniCredit & Universities foundation: these two scholarships issued by UniCredit & Universities foundation are dedicated to students with any nationality who graduated from any Italian university. Candidates must graduate with a minimum grade of 110/110 in the fields of economics, banking or finance. English proficiency is required. The scholarship is worth 25,000 euro and will additionally pay for tuition fees. Upon request, it can be renewed for an additional year. Moreover, students can apply for the scholarship once they have already started their graduate studies, however, the scientific committee will give priority to candidates starting their Ph.D. in the subsequent fall. Even in this case, UniCredit might offer to the winners employment or cooperation with other companies of the Group. Deadline: November. (http://www.unicreditanduniversities.eu/it/fellow/show/fellow_id/2)
  • Fullbright Self-Placed All Disciplines, S.-Italy Fullbright Commission: this institution offers 7 scholarships for bachelor and master students willing to pursue their master or their Ph.D. in the United States. Applicants must be Italian, need to have graduated (preferably in the previous three years) and need to possess at least one Italian degree. Candidates with no study experience in the US are preferred. The scholarship lasts one year, it is not renewable and it is worth 38,000 dollars. The Fullbright commission sponsors the beneficiaries’ J-1 visa. It is important to know, that, applying for the J-1 visa having a Fullbright scholarship, beneficiaries will probably necessarily be subject to the residency requirement, i.e. they will have to reside in their home country for 2 years once the visa has expired. Deadline: December. (http://www.fulbright.it/fulbright-self-placed-program/)
  • Borse di studio, Fondazione Einaudi: the foundation issues nine scholarships that are sponsored by different institutions. Three of them, offered by Compagnia di San Paolo, are worth 20,000 euro and are intended for students who want to study abroad in one of the fields indicated in the website (Economics is included). Four scholarships worth 10,000 euro are also available to pursue your doctoral studies. Applicants need to be less then 30 years old and to have graduated before the application deadline. Deadline: April. (http://www.fondazioneeinaudi.it/en/scholarships/)
  • “Éupolis Lombardia per la ricerca”, Regione Lombardia: Regione Lombardia issues one scholarship for students graduated in the field of Economics (Sviluppo Economico). To be elegible a candidate needs to have obtained a master degree with a minimum grade of 100/110 and be less than 32 years old. Once pre-selected, candidates will have to be interviewed so to assess their ability in doing research. The scholarship is worth 19,800 euro and is renewable for an additional year. (http://eupolis.regione.lombardia.it)
  • Founder’s scholarship, Ermenegildo Zegna: the Zegna Group provides scholarships up to 50,000 euro to outstanding Italians interested in pursuing their doctoral studies abroad and willing to come back to Italy after the completion of their studies. The scholarship is renewable for a maximum of three years. Candidates must be Italian citizens or residents, they need to have obtained their Master’s degree with a minimum grade of 105/110 or to be close to graduation and have an average of 28/30 (this criteria apply specifically to Bocconi students). Candidates need to receive the endorsement of their current institution in order to be fully considered in the selection process. If applicants will ask for more than 5,000 euro the family income will also be taken into consideration. It is important to understand that, regardless from the amount received, beneficiaries will be required to return back to Italy once completed their studies and they will have to reside in Italy three years for each year abroad funded by the Zegna Group. Waivers to the residency requirement might be applied for a few years. However, in the case in which the beneficiary would not return to Italy he/she will be asked to reimburse the total received (no interest rate will be applied). The pre-selection deadline is April but it depends on the university, an interview will follow in May, if pre-selected. (http://www.zegnagroup.com/ez-founders-scholarship)

 To conclude, here you have a short overview of the funding opportunities you will face as a prospective doctoral student. Applying to any of these scholarships might require a bit of effort but it will definitely pay off. Indeed, even if you do not qualify for the scholarship you might still be exposed to other amazing opportunities, as for the Stringher scholarship, and you will prepare in advance all the material you will need to apply to graduate studies. Finally, remember that you will still be able to apply for these scholarships once you have started your Ph.D. As “researchers-to-be”, having the chance to fund your own projects independently will be extremely valuable.

Awa Ambra Seck


Without a word


Almost two months have passed since we came back from a five-day fieldwork in the refugee camp of Ritsona, Greece. On December 2016, the Italian architect Bonaventura V.M. contacted the LEAP looking for someone who could help him in testing the effectiveness of a tent he designed on possible social and psychological outcomes. This structure – the Maidan Tent- is conceived to recreate a common space in Ritsona: Maidan indeed in Arab means “square”, like the square of a village . I remember we were sitting in the warm atmosphere of a Milanese café hearing some illustrative stories about the life in the camps, like an upside down tale from faraway countries. At the end of this first meeting, a handful of us got the right inspiration and decided to dedicate time and care to carry out a research in the camp. However, a first obstacle presented with the disarming brutality of simplicity when we recognized our inability to formulate a valid research question for a context we could barely even imagine. As straightforward as the problem came the solution thanks to the LEAP’s decision to finance an exploratory trip on field: on the 9th of March, Graduate thesis delivered and minds clear, we left for Greece.

As you see, much time has passed since our departure and several times we were (kindly) requested to write down a blog article on our experience in Ritsona. Yes, I know that I could tell you that this delay was due to the fact that I graduated (Happy me!) and celebrated (of course), that professors overloaded us with work or that my cat died, but the truth is that I wasn’t able to find a good way to start and conclude. If you are a fun of Italo Calvino as I am and you ever read his “Lezioni Americane”, you may know how the beginning and the end are important when writing, because they show that the writer has complete control of the narrative matter. Unfortunately, in our case probably the opposite happened and the experience took over our minds and hearts.  So, I ask forgiveness to Mr. Calvino and my cat as I will start this account with silence, without a word.

First, it was silence. When we arrived it was 8 a.m. of a cold rainy day and dirt roads were becoming sludgy. The camp was deserted under the pouring rain, no signs of light and life came from the ISOBOXES and improvised verandas circumscribing the small streets.  This downtime while residents were sleeping gave us the opportunity to walk around and get to know the main features of Ritsona and its institutional functioning. Indeed, Ritsona, located in the woods around the city of Chalkida, is an open camp in the sense that people are free to come and go as they please: most of the refugees arrive here on suggestion of other previous residents. We came also to know that most of the camp population is composed by Syrian refugees, divided on their part in Arab Syrians, Kurdish Syrians and Syrian Gypsies.  The daily life of the camp is mainly organized by several NGOs which work on field and have specialized on different activities. IOM is the NGO operating on behalf of the Ministry of Greece that gives support along the Asylum process and legal counseling. Later we would have discovered how well informed refugees are on the burocratic procedure and on their preferred final destination within Europe.There are also different medical NGOs providing first-aid interventions and others organizing activities for children and women in dedicated spaces, but there is a complete lack of activities targeting men adults. Interestingly, refugees unanimously appreciated the association “Cafè Rits” which organizes parties during religious holidays and occasional food delivery, giving them an alternative to the hated Greece military food catering.

Second,    Ritsona made us think about food and its wastage. It may seem a dumb statement if you have a picture of starved refugees knocking on EU’s doors for food, but piles of food catering are wasted every day and most of the people buy food on their own in Athens, where they can go thanks to IOM shuttle connection. This evidence presented us with a double enigma: why were war refugees being so “picky ”about food? And, how did they buy the food in Athens? I had never deeply meditated on the emotional rather than energetic value of food. All the activities related to cooking, from the choice of what to eat to the way of seasoning your meal, are a humble but clear expression of a person’s free will and a way to recreate lost cultural origins. The people we met in those days may have lost their homes, families and jobs because of war, but they were still struggling to preserve their identity and autonomy through the small daily choices they had control on. In particular, food was an important part of this set of decisions, and I perceived that begging for EU food or buying their own food made a distinction between the ones who survived and the ones who lived: being choosy as a necessary condition to being alive, a meaningful to choose-or-not-to-choose. At this point many of my friends economists will be replicating that this arguments is a castle in the sky as making choices imply the possibility to make them  that basically boils down to owning money. I know, economists are always concerned about money, but these good fellas may be pleased, as my castle was, when we discovered that the UNHCR funds a CTP in all Greek camps in order to ensure some money to the refugees. Each household monthly receives a 90 Euros benchmark amount and 50 Euros more per each member in the household. The program’s ambition is to bring back dignity and autonomy to the refugees and, for this reason, money usage is completely unrestricted.
However, during our first day in Ritsona, we did not only started to realize how fascinating and determinant are refugees’ consumption choices, but we also had a taste, in every sense, of their investments’ projects. Indeed, at the entrance of the camp there is a sort of “main road” with two falafel shops, a mini market and a barber shop, resembling a small economic cluster with its competition rules. It was surprising when we realized that these businesses were started and run by residents of the camp. Didal, the first to launch the falafel business, is a smiling man who, after offering us an exceptional falafel, calmly told us: “If I work, I am happy!”.

It was the first time I heard the word “happiness” in the camp. Refugees are not blatantly sad people, worrying about their troubles all day. Somewhere beyond their eyes you may feel the silent pain and the tragedy of war, but what they dress skin-deep is unconcealed apathy, boredom and frustration. A day in the camp seems to last for years, while most of your life stands by waiting for acceptance in the EU. Refugees are free to move within Greek borders, but where could they go? They are free to work, but who may ever hire them? They are free to love, study, live but what if they do not know what is going to happen in the next days? This condition of constant uncertainty paralyzes people intentions and depresses even more the spirits.  For this reason, they tend to sleep until late in the morning, killing time smoking tobacco and playing videogames on mobile phones. Women often  remain isolated in their ISOBOXES, men walk around as sleep-walkers, and kids are the only ones who keep time with their laughs and sparkling life.

Third, Ritsona speaks about war and loss. As I anticipated, people tend to hide their sorrow, but when you enter inside their ISOBOXES, sitting on the carpets and sharing a hot tea with them, they let you enter in their stories. In this way, we met Amer, a Palestinian guy who had been a refugee for all his harsh life, firstly escaping from Palestina to Syria with his parents, and then from Syria to Greece. He graduated in English literature in Syria but his first dream used to be becoming a doctor in order to save his father’s life: “ My parents died in Syria, you see, why do I have to become a doctor now?”, he asked through his dark and slanting eyes we could barely sustain. Another afternoon, we spent some time with a family coming from the unlucky city of Raqqa. In their ISOBOX war was still with them, looming over the children’s games, a filth of collapse and abandonment, in the imperceptible touch of a man on his temple to the question “Why do you smoke so much?”
To forget.

For sake of symmetry, I would be very tempted to start this paragraph with a “Fourth hope and peace arrived”, but I would lie when attempting to establish a temporal order to the bad we saw and the good we received. As always, these elements came together in a flow of emotions, faces and experiences difficult to disentangle. So, we did see hope, but it came together with sorrow and pain, concealed but never defeated, and for this even more special. It was there, in the family of Didal, running a business and investing energy and smiles for the peoples who came by. The boys of Ritsona showed us the will to move on, their touching way to behave normally, hanging out together and wittily strutting around with us, organizing football matches and giving them funny nicknames (“Long live the king of Ritsona!”). And we did see future in the hands of the children as nothing, not even war, was bigger than them.

Lastly, after we have passed through confusion, understanding, hope and sorrow, it came silence, again. We came up with a research question, we discussed it with the LEAP members, we edited a video, but an article was impossible to think. It is difficult to write when you think that the most proper way to tell something should be silence. Maybe, what I wrote until here is nothing more than air, a whisper that adds less to what the internet and newspapers can teach us about the Syrian crisis and the camps. So, I leave conclusions to journalists and political scientists and I let this breeze of words end as it started, without a word.

Giulia Buccione

Viola Corradini

Beatrice Montano

The end of poverty for the stalling continent: Just a vain hope?

Besides being affected by numerous calamities such as famines, droughts and HIV, another major problem of Africa is the lack of good governance. This last factor has captured the attention of International Organizations and Western countries whose main goal is to achieve the end of poverty through programmes financed by development aid. However, this goal seems a vain hope in the case of Africa. Indeed, according to several scholars, a sustainable economic growth is unachievable without inclusive political and economic institutions ensuring property and human rights protection, political participation, accountability and a trustful judicial system. In this context, it is natural to ask ourselves: are Western countries trying to promote this institutional transition? And if so, can their intervention through development aid be beneficial for the governance of this region or is it only an additional source of corruption and mismanagement?

Looking back at African history, Western countries had the opportunity to introduce their institutional framework in this continent during its colonization, but this did not happen. As Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson  illustrate, instead of favouring the institutional transition of their colonies, Western colonizers were more interested in exploiting their natural and human resources. An example of this is represented by the Kingdom of Kongo, an empire located in West Africa, with a society dominated by an elite class whose wellbeing derived mainly from slave plantations. When, with the “Scramble for Africa”, European colonizers occupied this area, they started to demand copper and ivory leading to an intensification of slavery in the plantations. Moreover, slave raiding became a common practice with the rising need for slaves in the American colonies. Therefore, it seems that, rather than set the conditions for a future partnership with this region, Europeans preferred to take advantage of the political instabilities and weaknesses of this continent for fulfilling their needs and creating even more extractive institutions.

Nowadays, the situation has been reversed. Despite the contrasting empirical results about aid effectiveness in relation to the accountability and corruption of recipient countries, Western democracies are committed to provide assistance to Africa in the field of governance in order to achieve the end of poverty. The eight Millennium Development Goals set by the world leaders at the UN headquarters in 2000 and to be achieved by 2015 represented a concrete step in this direction. The main scope was to fight poverty and diseases, as well as improve infrastructure, public management and governance in view of a global partnership.

Notwithstanding these commitments, as far as progress in governance is concerned, The Economist defined Africa as the “stalling continent”. Indeed, as the figure shows, the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, a measure of good governance composed by four categories, reported only a slight improvement in the overall score between 2008 and 2015. This was mainly caused by the low performance in the categories related to safety and economic opportunities and the declining scores of the best-ranked countries.

Despite these unsuccessful results, Western countries have not given up their efforts. In 2015 they set the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030. In this second commitment, greater emphasis has been given to governance with the 16th goal, “Achieve peace, justice and stronger institutions”, which is considered a necessary condition in order to ensure the other SDGs. At the same time Germany started to promote the Marshall Plan with Africa. This new programme operates not only in view of economic development (first pillar), but also for promoting peace and security (second pillar) and democracy and rule of law (third pillar). However, the most noteworthy feature of this plan is its intent to make Africa an active player in the role of development assistance. African choices are respected and African ownership of development policies is guaranteed in order to foster a global partnership with this continent.

Overall, from this change in attitude of Western leaders towards Africa, I think that two key aspects emerge. Firstly, politics cannot be considered separately from economics: political and economic institutions are among the main drivers of economic growth and their interaction should be considered in the evaluation of development policies. Secondly, it is evident that the future of Africa is in the hands of Western democracies and subject to their intentions and the established international agreements. In the past world leaders did not care about development aid, now they do, but what about the future? Will they be willing to devote other resources to this cause in case of failure of these new programmes? It seems that the destiny of this continent is uncertain and only the future performance of the governance indicators can give us a glimpse of it .

Laura Brogi